Fishing charters flourish on Lake Erie, revenue up 50%

Nov 21, 2023 | Ottawa Outdoors | 0 comments

Top angling television shows from around the country have spotlighted the Lake Erie walleye fishery. The Fishermen’s Digest TV Show in Michigan joined Mark Cahlik’s Port Clinton-based charter fleet, Mark I Sportfishing, on Lake Erie to film the exceptional walleye success. Cameraman Brett Kerr captures the happy results of Ari DeShano of Off Shore Tackle catching a walleye netted by First Mate Rick Newton. (Photo by D’Arcy Patrick Egan)

Over a period of 10 years, revenue for Ohio’s Lake Erie charter fishing industry increased more than 50% — considerably higher than inflation.

“Ohio’s Lake Erie charter fishing industry is vibrant,” said Tory Gabriel, Ohio Sea Grant extension program leader and fisheries educator.

A report surveying charter fishing captains about their business in 2020 was compared to survey results from 2010. For captains, resource managers, local communities and decision makers, the findings, published in the Ohio’s Lake Erie Charter Fishing Industry in its 2020 report, provide insight into the health and needs of the industry.

Lake Erie is the shallowest, southernmost and warmest of the Great Lakes. These characteristics combine to make it the most biologically productive, supporting abundant fish stocks including popular sport fish species such as walleye and yellow perch.

Ohio’s Lake Erie coast also offers great access for recreational anglers, including its robust and economically important charter fishing industry.

The charter captains reported that in addition to revenues, the number of licensed fishing guides, trips and charge per trip all increased.

On average, individual businesses averaged $20,664 in annual revenues in 2020 compared with $15,891 in 2010. More good news: The average total operating costs per business decreased to $10,230 from $12,405.

The percent of captains owning their own business increased to 88% from 81%, and the percent of businesses operating only one boat decreased to 80% from 91%.

“Walleye’s always been the major species people will charter for, but that even increased in 2020 to 88% compared with 73% in 2010,” Gabriel said.

The number of captains running multiple trips per day increased, indicating a high success rate. Total trips for all businesses also increased in 2020.

Major changes the captains plan for the next five years also show optimism for the industry, as 39% of the captains surveyed plan to increase their number of trips per year in the next five years.

More than 25% of the captains plan to increase their prices in the next five years; nearly the same percentage did so in the past five years. Among captains’ top concerns: Over harvest of fish stocks, illegal fishing practices, fisheries management, aquatic invasive species and harmful algal blooms.

Gabriel expects the survey results will help Lake Erie resource managers make decisions to support the charter fishing industry. In addition, agencies might use it as an indicator of the health of the lake.

The Ohio Lake Erie Commission used data from the report in its 2022 Lake Erie Quality Index, said Sandra Kosek-Sills, environmental specialist at the commission.

“Economic activity is one measure of the health of the ecosystem,” said Kosek-Sills. “Sustainable use of a healthy resource helps to enhance the quality of life not just of recreational users but also for our local communities in which the small businesses are established. If there are healthy populations of fish, the charter boat industry can provide this opportunity.”

Local communities’ visitor bureaus and chambers of commerce also could use the information to promote Lake Erie tourism.

“About 60% of charter fishing clientele come from more than 50 miles away,” Gabriel said. “People are traveling from lots of places to experience this amazing Lake Erie charter fishery, and they need other things: hotels, food, gas and so on. So it’s bringing in tourism dollars for local communities.”

“Anecdotally, there are more smaller boats getting into this now. And businesses are doing learning and teaching charters to show customers how to do different techniques for different species,” Gabriel said. “The industry is broadening.”

The Lake Erie Charter Boat Association, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife and The Ohio State University’s School of Environment and Natural Resources assisted with the survey and analysis for this technical summary.

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